German court circumcision ban meets wave of criticism

Berlin, Germany - Germany's foreign minister added his voice on Thursday to a chorus of criticism of a court decision to ban the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, arguing that such traditions must be permitted in a tolerant society.

"Germany is an open-minded, tolerant country where religious freedom is firmly established and religious traditions like circumcision are considered an expression of religious pluralism," Guido Westerwelle told the daily Bild in an interview to be published in its Friday edition.

A court in Cologne ruled on Tuesday that involuntary religious circumcision should be illegal as it could inflict serious bodily harm on people who had not consented to it.

The ruling, which applies only to the area around the western city of Cologne but sparked fears among Muslims and Jews in particular that other German states could copy the ban, said boys can consciously decide to be circumcised later in life.

According to the court ruling, "the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighs the fundamental rights of the parents".

Westerwelle said the ruling caused "irritation" around the world after being reported in the international media.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet's website said Turkish European Minister Egemen Bagis had criticized the German ruling, saying that circumcision was a matter of freedom of religion and conscience.

"If German judges have a problem understanding this issue, we can send our scientific circumcisers, we can give them lessons in how to circumcise," he was quoted as saying.

"We are ready to make any contribution for a country that is a friend and ally. But it is not possible for us to accept this ruling as a fait accompli ... God willing, this verdict will be changed," Bagis said.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany called the ruling an "unprecedented and dramatic intrusion" on religious freedom and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany called it "blatant and inadmissible interference" in the rights of parents.

Germany's two main Christian churches also criticized the Cologne court ruling, the Catholic Episcopal Conference calling it "extremely disconcerting".

"To ban circumcision is a serious attack on religious freedom," said Catholic Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff.

The Evangelical Church's Hans Ulrich Anke said: "Religious freedom and parents' right to choose how to educate their children have not been weighed against the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity".

The United Nations' special rapporteur on religious freedom, Heiner Bielefeldt, told German radio the court's reasoning was "nonsense".